Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Change of Mindset: Reform Not Stimulus Restores Financial Health

Andy Xie, Ex-Morgan Stanley Chief Economist
The biggest policy debate this year has thus far been when and how fast to exit from last year's stimulus policies. Last year, in a moment of panic over the global financial crisis, central banks and governments poured monetary and fiscal stimulus into the global economy. The side effects of these misguided policies are already showing up: asset speculation has engulfed the global financial market again and consumer price inflation is creeping up uncomfortably fast, especially in emerging economies. Despite the visible need for tightening, the consensus is demanding a slow and delayed exit. Japan's "early withdrawal" is touted as an example of what could happen otherwise.
Japan has experienced two decades of economic stagnation since the collapse of the infamous bubble it suffered in the 1980s. The most popular explanations are that Tokyo wasn't aggressive enough in stimulating the economy after the bubble burst, or that it withdrew its stimulus too early – or both. This line of thinking is popular among elite economists in the US, where it is rarely challenged. But few Japanese analysts buy it.
The Americans liken an economy in a slide to a car with a dead battery: it can be jump-started with a forceful enough push. But there's no sound logic behind such thinking. After a big bubble bursts, an economy suffers a terrible misalignment between supply and demand. Through high prices, a bubble diverts investment and labor to needed activities. It takes time for an economy to normalize. The bigger the bubble, the longer it takes to heal.
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